All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Food is in the air for St.Valentine's Day

Pork chops, cooked and served.Image via Wikipedia
There are a number of ways in which Costa Rica falls short of being an earthly paradise, and availability of wine is one of them.
Hideously expensive if imported, thanks to tariffs and taxes...a situation not likely to be amended even under the new free trade treaty with the European Union because, as remarked solemnly by a national daily paper, the reduction of tariffs on wine imports from the EU is a good thing as it will allow shops to make a bigger profit on selling it....
If produced in Costa Rica, then it is one of those tastes I have no wish whatsoever to acquire.
If I want warm, sickly stuff that fizzes then I'll just leave the Coca Cola out of the fridge.

So seeing a new brand of wine in the box on sale at Pali...Walmart's supposedly low price about a euro cheaper than the usual brand.... I thought I'd try it, but it was an experiment doomed from the start.

Firstly, I managed to drop it on the floor and, clearly being made from low price cardboard, it burst.
I then had to balance the remains between my feet while driving home down gravel roads which would give the Big Dipper a run for its money in the thrills stakes...luckily the car is an automatic.
After all that I stuck it in the fridge to give it a chance to show what it could do...and it did.
It took the enamel off my teeth.
Examination of the box showed that it was a red wine from Spain...which claimed to be a world best seller.
As paint stripper, they might be right.

Whatever it was sold for, it certainly shouldn't be for drinking, so, flying in the face of all the advice that a lousy wine will make a lousy sauce, I made a beef stew with it...and the stew was brilliant!

Food was in the air that day.....The Return of the Native had been blogging about a curry competition at her local....then a friend told me about a chilli cook-off at a gringo cafe the other side of the Central after all this I felt like going out to eat that evening.

But there was nowhere to go.

To be more accurate, there was nowhere that I would have wanted to go to closer than the capital, forty five minutes away, where there is a great choice of good places to eat, and I didn't feel like driving that far only to be obliged to go without wine because of the new drink driving laws.
That's why we go to restaurants at lunchtime...and travel on the bus.

Still, even though I had to settle for a home made stew that evening, it was not one of the things which count against Costa Rica as an earthly paradise.....there was nowhere to eat out in the evenings when we lived in rural France either...and there we didn't have the option of getting a bus!

I've always thought the French reputation for gastronomy over rated.....there were a few good places and a lot more for which 'pedestrian' would have been a compliment (here) and because I've usually lived out in the sticks it had to be good to get me to drive there and back.

Mark you, I was visiting my dear friend the Old Biddie, when last in France and she has a restaurant nearby which would have had me driving down there once a week...even if it took me all day to get there and all night to get back!
Food beautifully cooked and presented, a sensible wine list and good service. A real pleasure to go there.
I believe it is run by foreigners....
Why couldn 't they have taken over while I still lived in France!

Twice I've lived near enough to a village to walk down to the cafe in the square....the first time when I'd just moved to France and it was a steak frites sort of place, friendly and good value: the second time many years later in another village, another steak frites type of place, whose doorway I never darkened.

I had met the proprietor before in his previous establishment where he dished out the pork chop and frites that his wife cooked and then, having secured his prey, started moaning on about his hard life and times.
The story was not gripping and the pork chop was not fresh.

However, he clearly gripped someone.

A Dutch couple had been spending their holidays at the campsite at that village for years. The husband's hobby was star photography and apparently there was no loom of lights in that area to spoil his exposure...or whatever it was.
They must have been unusual for Dutch in that they did not bring all their provisions with them to France, but used to go to the pork chop dispenser for their evening meals and became quite friendly with him.
When an order was served on him to retile his kitchen and bring everything up to the norms for establishments serving food they offered to finance him, but then, on getting the estimates, decided it would be better to buy a cafe elsewhere and set him up in business, paying them a small rent.

Thus he arrived in my village.

He must have had a talent for making foreign friends, for an English couple living down the road from me were also friendly with him, and not only recommended him but also took their friends there. Frequently.
They must have been especially fond of pork chops.

French villages being what they are, events are kept he was in line for everything from the old age pensioners lunch to the chasseurs' banquet. Captive trade as it were.
The OAP event passed off pretty well.. Delays in service don't worry the OAPs  as long as there is wine on the table and the room is warm.
The chasseurs' banquet was not a success, however. They supplied the venison and he forgot to marinade it.
Those with false teeth found it hard going. The offer of pork chops instead did not meet with the appreciation he had expected..

Still, heartened by his experiences, he decided to offer a St. Valentine's Day evening...if you see what I mean.
The set menu went up in the window, and he even put an advertisement in the local rag.
Such was the response that he had to open up the second dining room....and by seven o'clock on  the fourteenth of February the joint was jumping.
In honour of the occasion he had drafted in supplementary waiting staff and the aperitifs circulated delays this time!

His customers were seated and the first course was served...all was still going was by then eight o'clock and there was a happy buzz throughout the two rooms as people awaited their main course.

Let it just be said that the buzz became less happy as by nine o'clock only a fraction of the clients had been served.....and my English neighbour said that their party had finally been served at eleven o'clock, by which time the wine had been looked on when it was red and things were getting decidedly noisy.

Guy had not attended the St. Valentine's Day  event...he always considered that the man must be allergic to dust and that the slow service was accounted for by his fear of raising any by some swift movement....but he did have all the gossip.

So what went wrong? He'd taken on extra staff after all.

Ah! In the dining room, yes, but not in the kitchen. He had over one hundred people there for his set menu.

Yes, but with a set menu it must have been arranged to be easy for the kitchen, surely?

You would think so, wouldn't you. So what possessed the cretin to make steak with bearnaise sauce the main course.....when the only cook was his wife and the only source of heat a two burner gas stove?

Just surprised it wasn't pork chops.

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  1. I have always been told that you should not use wine for cooking that you would not enjoy drinking, it seems you have just proved that theory is out of the window. LOL Diane

  2. That wine. Wasn't called Cillit Bang was it?

  3. Oh my, I never ceases to amaze me how some people manage to stay in business!

    I'm glad the Spanish paint stripper didn't go to waste but came out tops in a stew, against current thinking too!

  4. Not that I buy wine here often, but when I do it isn't particularly nice. The really good Turkish wines are ridiculously expensive. But the cheaper wine really isn't too bad when used for cooking.

  5. Sounds like you should stick to the beer and tequila.

    Mind you, I've some pretty bad stuff from over here too.

  6. I think the french reputation for gastronomy is over rated too. Well maybe not over rated exactly but over regionalised. You can get awfully tired of duck which is the regional speciality and heaven forfend if you might want something not french.

  7. Diane, I was a bit worried as it was so foul...but I had some tough collar beef...which I use for beef, ginger onion stir fry for which it is ideal..half frozen, cut wafer thin and then into fine strips it cooks before it can get tough and has a super flavour.
    So I sweated off onion and garlic, diced the collar and threw in the wine to cook in the slow cooker.
    I nearly had a fit when I lifted the lid after two hours because all I could smell was vinegar,so I threw in a load of tomato, a bit of tomato paste, black olives, bay leaves, a load of thyme and some dried tangerine peeel...from my own tree!

    Three hours later, it had all stewed down and it was really good. I was delighted....and surprised...and jolly relieved!

    Steve, I shall baptise that recipe 'cillit bang' stew...thank you!
    Drinking it would giv a new advert, though...
    'Bang! And your teeth are gone!'

    Sarah, that guy was incredible....there is a much darker story about him I'll get round to some time...

    Ayak, when I bought wine in Turkey it was uniformly uninteresting, but I didn't buy the expensive stuff..however, nothing was as foul as this stuff...
    I was, as they say, sweating cobs that the stew would turn out all right...

    Mark, I am currently in Nicaragua, enjoying Tona beer...tequila does nothing for me whatsoever and I am yet to find out if I can cook with it.
    There can be some foul stuff in France too...

    Rosie, I do agree. It's a sort of blindness to anything outside the local horizon.
    If you want non authentic food, go to a PTA couscous night...they just think that the only subtlety is to adjust the amount of harissa with which you daub it...

  8. The stew sounds wonderful - my husband makes a great boeuf bourguignon and always uses the cheapest rotgut from the lowest supermarket shelf, seems to work magically in slow cooking.

    I was behind our local cafe owner at the supermarket tonight...3 frozen turkey cordon bleu in his basket. Wonder if that's what was on the menu at the cafe? Or if he was treating himself.

  9. smy, I think slow cooking must be the answer....and if he was only buying three must be for the caff...that's how many customers he could expect with a menu like that!

  10. I have only eaten badly (very badly) once in France and this was when a friend who is no longer a friend invited my husband and me for dinner. She gave us couscous which I'd not eaten before at that time but which I've come to love, no thanks to the dry stuff she'd given us.
    As for wine, oh, I've often drunk very bad wine in this country, often in restaurants. The parents of a friend of mine were once restaurant owners so my friends knows wine and when we lunch or dine out she always tells me what the real value of the bottle is for which we had just handed over 50+ euro.

  11. Marilyn, I had had some super meals in France...but not very often.
    Couscous badly made can be beyond belief awful...I was lucky enough to have had good friends who could cook!

    As to wine, I agree. A chap we knew who ran a restaurant told me that a two hundred per cent mark up was the norm.
    Less and less can you find a decent, drinkable wine for an affordable price...but if you are ever in Doue la Fontaine in the Maine et Loire, go to the Dagobert...the boss and his wife have one of the most interesting local wine lists it has been my pleasure to explore.
    And the food's not bad either...

  12. I read this last week and could not think of an apropriate comment as we are relatively new converts to holidaying in France, but whatever the country I would always avoid a set menu on a celebratory day.

  13. cheshire wife, and how wise you are!